Keeping seniors in their homes

Charles Warner | The Union Daily Times Seniors begin gathering at the tables of the Union Senior Citizens Center shortly before lunch Monday morning. The Union Senior Citizens Center is one of the facilities operated by the Union County Council on Aging as part of its efforts to help seniors continue living in their homes independently and with dignity.

UNION COUNTY — The goal of the Union County Council on Aging is to help seniors keep living in their homes independently and with dignity, a goal the organization’s director said requires local assistance in order to be achieved.

In developing the county budget for fiscal 2015-2016, Union County Council found itself facing a projected $800,000 deficit. To balance the budget as required by state law, county council eliminated 11 positions including two in the Union County Recreation Department, five in the Union County Sheriff’s Office, and four in the Union County Public Works Department.

County council also eliminated funding to a number of outside agencies, including the Union County Council on Aging.

Last week, however, county council committed to restoring some funding to the Council on Aging, specifically $10,000-11,000 that will enable it to continue providing a local match for nearly $400,000 in state and federal funding it brings into the county. Council determined that the balance of the required local match could be found in the facilities the Council on Aging operates and the utilities it uses in providing its services to county seniors.

When county council announced its plans to cut funding to the organization, Council on Aging Director Earl Black sent Supervisor Frank Hart a letter asking that the county reconsider its plans. In his letter, Black explained that the funding is needed because the state and federal programs the Council on Aging receive funding from requires a local match. He said the Council on Aging needs those state and federal funds to help achieve its goal of enabling senior citizens to continue living in their homes for as long as possible.

“Senior programs in our county partner with SC State Government, the Federal Government through the Older Americans Act, the Department of Agriculture and Second Harvest Food to keep older vulnerable seniors in their homes,” Black stated. “These partnerships require a level of commitment from the local community in order to access funding. No program is without a requirement for match or local dollars in order to receive their funding, some require 15 percent, some .08 to .16 cents per pound but all require some local commitment.”

Black stated that, “currently, the county’s $89,000 is bringing into our county $397,678 cash per year and over 350,000 pounds of food and commodities supporting over 75o households per month.” In his letter, Black included the following breakdown of the assistance and the sources of the state and federal assistance Council on Aging receives:

• Federal dollars: $187,404

• State dollars: $178,032

• Social Service Block Grant Homemakers: $22,242 a year for five years with a value of $111,210

• Farmers Market Vouchers: $10,000

• Second Harvest food and commodities: 350,000-plus pounds per year

Black said that the Council on Aging uses these funds and other support it obtains through the local match to help senior citizens continue to living independently in their own homes. He said this benefits not only the seniors, but their families, and the community.

“Seniors living in their own homes independent and with dignity is the goal of every senior program,” Black stated. “Meals, homemakers, transportation, food, socialization and exercise are all about keeping seniors active and at home contributing to society.”

Black pointed out that the SC Department of Revenue sent a total of $1,346,358.37 in Homestead Exemption Reimbursement funds into the county for seniors living in their own homes this year. That total included:

• County of Union: $1,165,435.38

• Town of Carlisle: $9,171.60

• Town of Jonesville: $19,098.91

• City of Union: $152,652.48

“Senior programming helping seniors live at home brings value to our community that can be seen in dollars and cents; more importantly, it’s the right thing to do,” Black stated.

Black pointed out that, after a lifetime of working in and contributing to the community, many seniors have to get by on incomes of only $1,000 a month or, in other cases, only $500 a month. He said the Council on Aging and the services it provides enables seniors to stretch such meagre incomes further than they might otherwise be able to.

“The Council on Aging is a quality of life issue for many of our seniors who are just barely making ends meet,” Black said. “We provide five hot meals a week and a weekend bag. We keep seniors active, involved and living in their own homes.”

Black said that everything the Council on Aging does “saves money for the taxpayer” as well as helping the seniors and their families financially. He pointed out that the programs that provide seniors with meals and housekeeping services that enable them to stay in their homes cost an average of $3,500 compared to approximately $70,000 a year if they have to go into a nursing home.

“Thirty-five hundred dollars is a long way from seventy thousand,” Black said.